Whether it is the comprehensive set of reforms set forth in H.R. 1, a subset of those measures (such as guaranteed no-excuse voting by mail, in-person early voting or paper records/audits) or stand-alone reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act’s Section 5 preclearance provisions, I would be hard-pressed to come up with a handful of Senate Republicans who would sacrifice their own careers for the sake of democracy — much less 10. And make no mistake: A vote in favor of voting rights would be far more offensive to the MAGA authoritarians than simply refusing to accept the Big Lie.
In other words, we are heading for a confrontation between GOP efforts to suppress voting by means of the anti-majoritarian filibuster on one hand, and the integrity of democratic elections on the other. Democrats should be as intolerant of its members refusing to support the latter as Republicans are of Cheney.
Even putting aside the strongest argument for filibuster reform — defense of fundamental voting rights — the case for reforming the filibuster for all ordinary legislation is overwhelming. Some 350 scholars, political scientists and historians, including Ron Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, have signed on to an open letter to senators arguing that "procedural reform can strengthen the core functions of the Senate as envisioned both by the Framers of our Constitution and by generations of Americans — as well as sustain Americans’ faith in democracy.” Signatories tracking the decline of democracy include Francis Fukuyama, Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky and Robert Putnam.
The scholars, 12 of whom are Pulitzer Prize winners, point out that the Framers rejected a supermajority rule for ordinary legislation and that, by and large, the Senate functioned by majority rule for more than a century. They explain:
Today, the Framers’ vision of the function of the Senate has largely been inverted. Leaders on all sides agree that the Senate does not engage in the robust deliberation, debate, and compromise it once did. And it is now the world’s only legislative body with an effective supermajority requirement for common legislation. ...Various scholars, including many of the undersigned, have studied the relationship between the modern filibuster and the decline in legislative productivity; the decline in legislative debate; and the transfer of power from Congress to the Executive Branch, where policymaking is more likely to experience pendulum swings from one administration to the next.
The argument that the filibuster promotes robust debate is plainly wrong; instead, it prevents votes from ever being taken and blocks negotiations that could achieve bipartisan deals with fewer than 60 votes. The filibuster has become another choke point — what the scholars call a “veto point” — to block legislation that garners overwhelming popular support. “Over the last 30 years,” they write, “nearly 80 percent of bills blocked by the filibuster were bipartisan, with the average supported by five senators from the other party; and almost a quarter of all filibustered bills in the last 16 Congresses were supported by senators who represented over 60 percent of the U.S population.” And they note, on an issue dear to the heart of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), that despite 92 percent public support for universal background checks on gun sales, a filibuster dashed a bipartisan bill after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
While the letter does not recommend a specific reform, the signers note that the Senate’s ultimate institutional defender, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, “led successful efforts to limit the excesses of the Senate’s tradition of extended debate.”
We know from the Republicans’ support of the Big Lie and their intolerance of honest argument that objections they raise to modification of the filibuster are not offered in good faith. This is a party dedicated to minority rule and to using all possible instruments, including deceit, to beat back democracy. We have seen what minority, authoritarian rule leads to: violence, rejection of truth, the normalization of white supremacy, and antipathy toward equal protection under the law. Manchin and other Democrats should want no part of this.
For Senate Democrats, the question is simple: Do they abet the nativist assault on democracy, or do they defend a multiracial democracy? For goodness’ sake, if Liz Cheney can stand up to the anti-democratic bullies, Democrats can, too.